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Sending my Daughter to the Gun Range: on Trust, Pluralism, and the Only Way Forward
“Why do people love their guns so much?”
A progressive Christian pastor whom I follow on Facebook posts that query today. It is a question, he says, that his children asked him last night before bed.
My pastor friend is, like so many of us, in anguish over Nashville. He goes on in his public post:
I tried to offer a simple and age-appropriate answer. But explaining to children about America's sin of gun lust isn't easy.
That's partly true because I don't fully grasp it myself.
How do you explain to kids that some people's passion for our country's second amendment is foundational to every aspect of their human identity? That they hold it sacred as if Jesus is pro-gun (he's not, btw). How do you explain to kids that there's a large population of people who believe that more guns is a rational answer to mass shootings? How do you explain to kids that some people who we've elected care more about guns than they do about the safety and wellness of children? How do you explain to kids that guns are basically America's golden calf, tangible idols that people worship and will do almost anything to protect? How do you explain to kids that if we wanted to, we could all get in the car right now, and drive to Walmart and purchase a gun without any questions or background check? And in fact, it's harder to buy ClaritinD for my seasonal allergies than it is a firearm.
Feel free to nod or bristle as your politics suggest.
Heloise asked me this same question five years ago, after the 2018 Parkland shooting. She asked if we had guns, and I said we did not. I told my child I was not the right person to ask about guns, as I’ve never liked them.
What I did do is call up a friend whose son was in my daughter’s class. This friend has as impressive a firearm collection as can be imagined in West Los Angeles; he shoots competitively and recreationally. His son had started shooting at age six.
I know just enough about guns to know this friend follows the correct safety protocols. I asked my friend if he wouldn’t mind explaining to my daughter his love of guns, and why gun ownership mattered to his family.
My friend obliged. A few months later, this friend took his son and my daughter to a private gun range, and the three shot guns together. (I did sign a waiver.) Heloise, who was then nine, found it interesting, but not her cup of tea, as it were. She has expressed no desire to shoot again but remains friends with that boy and his family.
When I asked my daughter what she thought of guns, she replied, “I understand why people like them, but I don’t.”
Gentle reader, I do not hold myself up as an example of how best to parent! I do know this: when my children ask me a serious, heartfelt question to which I do not know the answer, it is my job to figure out who might be able to explain to my kids what I cannot.
It is certainly not my job to instill in my children hostility towards a sizable percentage of their fellow Americans. Part of my job as a dad is to raise my children to be good citizens; to nurture civic virtue, it strikes me that we need to nurture curiosity rather than inculcate contempt.
School shootings are a terrible crisis for which I do not have an easy answer. I do know very well that given the makeup of Congress, the courts, and the predilections of millions of my fellow Americans, there is not going to be an assault weapons ban anytime soon. Telling Heloise and David that half the country is made up of lunatics won’t do anything to equip my kids to navigate this strange and dangerous world. It will just make them more afraid.
I don’t like guns myself. (That’s not a moral judgment; it goes back to when I was a small boy, and an older cousin tried to teach me to shoot, and I was terrible at it because I couldn’t get still enough. I decided that any sport that required me to quiet my body that much was probably not for me. As a result, I don’t shoot, have no interest in shooting, and know very little about firearms.)
What I do know is that there are good people who do love guns, and who have reasons to believe that gun ownership makes us safer. Those people – not me – are equipped to answer the question my daughter asked in 2018, and my Facebook friend’s kids asked last night.
To be a parent is, as the saying goes, to let your heart walk around outside your body. To be a parent is to live with cavalcades of fears. Those fears are shaped by experience, by culture, by circumstance. We like to think our fears are rational, and those of our political opponents are foolish and fantastical. We are vaguely aware that they feel the same way about us, but we reassure ourselves that they are in error.
If we stop talking to parents who believe differently than we do, we fall victim to the lie that they couldn’t possibly love their little ones as much as we love ours.
I did not send Heloise to a gun range to make her into a shooter. I sent her to a gun range in the care of a parent who sees the world differently than I do, a parent who loves his children as I love mine, because that parent could answer a question I could not.
I am afraid of school shootings. Every parent is, surely. I am also afraid of the death of civic friendship; and I am afraid of raising children who are suspicious, peevish, and provincial. I will do everything in my power to raise children who do not see their fellow Americans as monsters, perverts, or fools.
We will solve this problem together, or we will not solve it at all.